Some see Putin’s cancellation of the Washington trip as an effort to avoid uncomfortable questions about the crackdown on dissent.

“He is not going to bring anything back from there,’’ said Alexei Malashenko, a scholar with the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He will not come back as a winner, but will face criticism.’’

Malashenko said Putin’s visit would send a sign of weakness after he accused the US of funding the protest leaders.

“In the current context, Medvedev is a much more useful figure,’’ he said. “He bears no responsibility, he is no longer the president, and everyone knows he’s the eternal No. 2,’’ Malashenko said.

Putin, however, has often relished an opportunity to take on his critics both at home and abroad.

At a summit with European Union leaders in Brussels in 2002, where he was criticized over the military campaign against Islamic militants in Chechnya, he famously struck back by telling those who supported the militants that he could arrange for them to be circumcised in such a way that “nothing will grow again.’’

“I don’t think that Putin is scared of anything linked to politics,’’ Arkady Dvorkovich, a presidential economic adviser who is Russia’s envoy to the G-8, said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio. “This is laughable. These are just idle thoughts that have nothing to do with reality.’’  

I was wondering what it was I've been reading all this time.